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Sharks Might Regret Tomorrow Sending Eklund Down Today

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

William Eklund is what, like the fourth-best forward on the San Jose Sharks right now?

Timo Meier has been traded. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl are at top of a teetering pyramid. Probably Alexander Barabanov too.

After that? Eklund certainly has a case for No. 4.

So why did the San Jose Sharks send him down?

A couple things make sense to me, both that the Sharks will probably be loath to admit.

Some background: Last year, when Eklund started the season with the Sharks, I advocated keeping him instead of sending him back to Sweden after nine games.

About seven pounds lighter, Eklund was surviving in the NHL on his guile. That’s the right word – he was surviving, not thriving.

But he also, mainly because of his hockey brain and shifty skating, was a legitimate top-nine forward on a Sharks squad that started the season 6-3-0.

It seems stupid now, but there were hopes of a playoff push, and even at mid-January, San Jose was 20-16-1 and in the last wild card spot.

So if your primary goal is to win? To give up a top-nine forward for free after a 6-3-0 start seemed contrary to that goal.

To this day, I still believe that Eklund would’ve been able to negotiate his way through the full NHL season last year and get a lot out of it.

This season, however, it’s a much different situation competitively.

When the Sharks recalled Eklund on Mar. 4 for a tilt against the Washington Capitals, they had 48 points, second-fewest in the Western Conference. After a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, 1-5-2 with Eklund, they have 52 points, now dead-last in the conference.

Through it all, a stronger Eklund is a noticeably-better player than he was last season, and while he has just a goal and two assists in his eight games, he also looked on the verge of at least a mini-breakout.

One stat that jumps out? Last year, according to Natural Stat Trick, Eklund averaged just 1.67 Shots Per 60 at 5-on-5. This season, he almost quadrupled that, 6.22. This speaks to a stronger Eklund playing on the inside more, instead of on the perimeter.

Eklund might be about to thrive in the NHL…and the San Jose Sharks sent him back to the AHL.

Of course, the Sharks say they want to give Eklund the opportunity to get the San Jose Barracuda into the playoffs. And there is value in that, giving him that experience of leading the charge.

Sharks Send Eklund Down to Barracuda

But of course, there’s also value in giving Eklund NHL games.

What’s not up for as much debate?

So back to the reasons that the Sharks might not admit…

Contract

By keeping Eklund under 10 NHL games played (again), they’re able to prevent the official beginning of his three-year entry-level contract. So instead of two years of Eklund at a bargain basement rate, if they had burned off a year of his contract this season by playing him 10 or more games, they’re going to have three years.

It’s the cold, calculating, and obvious move, but I get it.

I do wonder if it blows up in the Sharks’ faces though, there’s a real risk of that.

For one, Eklund will not be inclined to do San Jose any favors on his next contract – and he shouldn’t. He’s deserved to be in the NHL for two years and running, and he’s not.

Second, Eklund is likely to get more expensive the older that he gets. NHL forwards tend to peak, in terms of productivity, in roughly the 22-to-25 age range.

So following that train of thought, Eklund’s ELC will now expire when he’s 23. If you had burned off a year this season, he’d be 22. So it could happen that Eklund’s breakout campaign, if it does occur, happens at 23 instead of 22.

That’s a good problem to have, of course, but the Sharks might rue shortchanging Eklund now in that case.

Connor

The contract is the obvious unspoken reason why the San Jose Sharks sent Eklund down.

The less obvious unspoken reason for sending down a player that makes the team obviously better right now?

The saying goes that coaches and players don’t tank. And for obvious reasons, you don’t want players to be intentionally throwing games.

But if you’re a GM? Well, you can give your coach and players a few less weapons to work with. One less Meier. One less Eklund.

If it helps you get Connor Bedard or another top-four 2023 Draft prospect?

Just like it’s not a full-on rebuild, it’s not an all-out tank by Mike Grier – otherwise, he would have never called Eklund up in the first place – but suffice to say, sending Eklund down makes you a worse team now.

Hopefully the future gain, be it Eklund in 2025-26 at less than a million AAV or a higher 2023 Draft pick, is worth it.

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